THE presence of Erin’s Own and Newtownshandrum in the last four of the Co-Op Superstores Premier Senior Hurling championship brings back nostalgic reminders of the noughties campaigns when the two sides were the strongest club teams in the county.
In those halcyon days, the north Cork side won all four of their county titles in that decade, in 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2009, while Erin’s Own were county kingpins in 2006 and 2007.
The two clubs clashed in the 2007 county final when the Glounthaune outfit emerged victorious by 1-11 to 1-7 with probably the biggest takeaway from looking back at the teamsheets is the realisation that almost half of the Erin’s Own team are still not only playing but prospering at this level.
Shane Bowen, Cian O’Connor, Stephen Cronin, Sean Kelly, Eoghan Murphy and Kieran Murphy all played in that victory 15 years ago. Their side may have the profile of a ‘Dad’s Army’ set-up right now, but no club will get anything lightly from the men in blue and red.
Newtownshandrum may have a more youthful squad profile, but they have their survivors too, with James Bowles, Michael Bowles, Jack Herlihy and Cathal Naughton being part of the 2007 team that day.
Another standout from the 2007 championship is the fact that 25 sides contested the Seán Óg Murphy Cup that year. It is easy to forget just how bloated the competition used to be.
And while the presence of the two above-mentioned clubs might suggest that things always stay the same, if we drop back just three further years, to the 2004 decider, we can see that is clearly not the case.
In the 2004 final Na Piarsaigh had just too much firepower for Cloyne, winning by 0-17 to 0-10, as the temporary return of Setanta Ó hAilpín from Aussie Rules in Australia, and the emergence of his brother Aisake up front stole the headlines.
They were the two strongest sides in the county that year, but 18 years later and both clubs are now struggling. Cloyne succumbed to a heavy defeat at the hands of Bride Rovers in the Senior A quarter-final at the weekend, while on the same day Na Piarsaigh were suffering a similar fate in their Premier Senior relegation play-off final against Charleville.
A few years ago Na Piarsaigh might have expected their extremely strong underage contingent of four or five years ago to really drive them on, but it just has not happened for that talented bunch, mainly due to injuries, while Cloyne might require another generation of O’Sullivan’s to get them motoring again!
Na Piarsaigh’s plight will be a huge talking point, as it leaves Glen Rovers as the only Premier Senior club on the north side of the city for next year’s championship. Back in 2004, they had Na Piarsaigh (as winners), Glen Rovers and Delanys contesting the championship at the highest grade. Clearly, a lot of work needs to be done to restore the north side to that level of involvement.
Over on the southside, the re-emergence of the Rockies and the Barrs in recent years paint a better picture, while Douglas are competitive every year now also.
Arguably the bigger story is that of Bishopstown, who have survived as a Premier Senior club despite being annually tipped to drop down. They will require an influx of youth in the next few years to drive on, but they must be commended for their successful 2022 campaign which ensured they retained their status.
And while it is easy to point at clubs that might have dropped a level or two since their glory days it must be acknowledged that this is just the nature of sport. Sport is cyclical. It is always evolving. For every declining dynasty, you have an emerging upstart to match. Bride Rovers and Fr O’Neill’s would not have dreamt of county titles back in 2004 yet here we are in 2022 and they are probably both contemplating Premier Senior Hurling and beyond. The likes of Kanturk and Charleville too are from their junior status of yesteryear.
The moral of the story for these currently successful clubs probably is, if you find yourself at the top table to enjoy it, like Erin’s Own do, as you just never know how long it is going to last.